Cubs looking at locking up Samardzija as part of their core


Cubs looking at locking up Samardzija as part of their core

INDIAN WELLS, Calif. The marketing department should put Jeff Samardzija front and center again. Hes got the long hair, tattoos, Notre Dame connection and blue-collar attitude.

Samardzijas a Chicago guy. In a clubhouse full of players still trying to find their identities and make sure they say the right things to the media, who else could do an impression of Hawk Harrelson?

And then deliver the zinger: You could always get a good nap in during the Sox game.

The Cubs are still shopping for two legitimate starting pitchers during the general manager meetings at the Hyatt Regency outside Palm Springs, Calif. Theyve reportedly submitted a bid for the right to negotiate with Korean left-hander Hyun-jin Ryu, and are pushing to re-sign reliever Shawn Camp, their only free agent.

But in the back of their mind, the Cubs are also thinking about a contract extension for Samardzija. Industry sources confirmed on Thursday that the Cubs have discussed the possibility internally and reached out to Samardzijas camp. Even if its only preliminary and far from a slam dunk it shows that hes become a core player.

The Cubs dont have to hype Samardzija anymore or explain why they made a 10 million investment in an All-American wide receiver. A classic Jim Hendry signing has become a key piece for the Theo Epstein administration, perhaps the next in line for a new deal after the commitment to Starlin Castro last summer.

Im not going to comment on it, general manager Jed Hoyer said. But he had a great year and certainly is a guy we hope to have in a Cubs uniform for a long time. Hes a great competitor. I think hes the kind of guy that teammates really look up to. He has the potential down the road to be a really good leader.

So far, hes had to worry about himself as hes matured in the game. Its hard to be a leader when youre also trying to establish a career. But I think now that hes had a really great season, he can probably be that guy. I got nothing but positive things to say about the year he had. Getting to know him, hes really impressive.

At this time last year, Samardzija might have had two good half-seasons in the big leagues during an up-and-down career as a reliever. He lobbied Epstein for a shot in the rotation and responded by going 9-13 with a 3.81 ERA and getting stronger later in the season.

Samardzija posted a 2.58 ERA in 11 starts after the All-Star break. He notched 180 strikeouts in 174.2 innings before a precautionary September shutdown. He expects to be unleashed next season for 200 innings and assume some of the leadership responsibilities once held by Ryan Dempster.

Only Tampa Bay Rays ace David Price fired a fastball with a higher average velocity (95.5 mph) than Samardzija (95.1 mph), according to the online database at FanGraphs.

With that type of ceiling, Samardzija might not be in a hurry to sign over his three arbitration-eligible seasons. He will turn 28 next year and remains under club control through 2015. Hes insisted that he feels even younger than that because theres not as much wear and tear on his right arm after focusing on football for so long.

When asked back in August, Samardzija played it cool while the visiting clubhouse was buzzing with reports about Castros potential 76 million extension in between games of a doubleheader against the Cincinnati Reds.

Arbitration is a good scenario for a player, Samardzija said that afternoon. It was put there by the players (union) and its a fair situation. Like Ive said all along, I signed a nice contract coming out of college and I dont have many expenses. I dont have that many bills to pay. So I dont really need any money to tell you the truth.

Im not asking for anything. Im asking to pitchIm here to work. Im not here to get paid. Im here to prove that I can play this game every fifth day and be a guy (who can) help take this team where we want to go.

Samardzija brings swagger and confidence to the clubhouse, and that could color any negotiation. During the final week of the season, he indicated that hed be willing to listen.

Obviously, Id like to hear what they have to say simply because this is where I want to be, Samardzija said. But then again, that also might mean theres really no rush to do anything. They have my rights for three more years and Ive openly stated a lot of times that this is where I want to be.

I wanted to be here when it wasnt going good and I still want to be here when (it gets) good. That hasnt changed. Obviously, Im excited to see the kind of pieces were going to add and the direction were going to go, because I want to be a big part of this solution in the future.

The Cubs still need a third baseman, an outfielder and some bullpen help, but they may have already found a No. 1 starter. Who knows what that might cost on the open market in 2016 and beyond?

But until then, the Cubs should be selling Samardzija jerseys alongside those of Castro and Anthony Rizzo, because a player once almost written off as a total bust is now part of Epsteins core.

Anthony Rizzo/Javier Baez antics show how this Cubs team doesn’t feel the same weight of history

Anthony Rizzo/Javier Baez antics show how this Cubs team doesn’t feel the same weight of history

LOS ANGELES – Within minutes of the last out on Thursday night at Dodger Stadium, ESPN’s @SportsCenter account sent out a photo of Moises Alou at the Wrigley Field wall to more than 30 million Twitter followers: “The last time the Cubs were up 3-2 in an NLCS was Game 6 of the 2003 NLCS vs. the Marlins. Most remember it as ‘the Bartman Game.’”

As Kerry Wood once said: “Irrelevant, dude.”
Look, the Cubs still need to find a way to beat either Clayton Kershaw or Rich Hill this weekend, with Kenley Jansen resting and waiting for the multiple-inning saves. The obligatory description for Kershaw is “the best pitcher on the planet.” Hill’s lefty curveball – and “the perceptual velocity” of his fastball – freezes hitters. Jansen has a mystical cutter reminiscent of the great Mariano Rivera. The top-heavy part of this Los Angeles playoff pitching staff has held the Cubs to zero runs in 16.1 innings.

But until proven otherwise, forget about this idea of a Cubs team weighed down by the history of a franchise that hasn’t played in the World Series since 1945.

Just look at Javier Baez getting in Anthony Rizzo’s airspace during Game 5, the human-highlight-film second baseman standing right next to the All-Star first baseman as he caught a Kike Hernandez pop-up for the second out of the third inning.

It didn’t matter that this was a 1-0 game and MVP-ballot players Justin Turner and Corey Seager were coming up. This is what the 2016 Cubs do. Rizzo caught the ball, quickly flipped it underhand and it bounced off Baez’s chest – in front of a sellout crowd of 54,449 and a national Fox Sports 1 audience.

“We always mess around,” Rizzo said at his locker inside a tight clubhouse jammed with media after an 8-4 win. “So I’m screaming: ‘Javy! Javy! I got it! I got it, Javy, I got it!’

“And usually he’ll yell at me: ‘Don’t miss it!’ Or I’ll yell at him: ‘Don’t miss it!’

“We do that a lot. If it’s a pop-up to him, I’ll go right behind him. It’s just little ways of slowing the game down and having fun, too.”

Rizzo is a Gold Glove-caliber first baseman for a team that led the majors in defensive efficiency this year. As a super-utility guy, Baez got credit for 11 defensive runs saved in 383 innings at second base, or one less than co-leaders Dustin Pedroia and Ian Kinsler, who each did it in almost 1,300 innings.

“Sometimes when I call (Rizzo) off to get a fly ball, he starts talking to me,” Baez said. “I tell him: ‘Hey, you can do whatever you want. Just don’t move my head. You can touch me if you want. Just don’t move my head.’

“And I told him to be ready for it, because I was going to do the same thing. You just got to be focused on the fly ball. No matter what’s happening around you, you just got to catch it.”

[SHOP: Buy a "Try Not to Suck" shirt with proceeds benefiting Joe Maddon's Respect 90 Foundation & other Cubs Charities]

This isn’t about Bartman. It’s about a group of young, confident players who are growing up together and absolutely expect to be in this position. It’s manager Joe Maddon designing “Embrace The Target” T-shirts and telling them to show up to the ballpark whenever they want and then blow off batting practice.

“For sure, we’re relaxed,” said Baez, who’s gone viral during these playoffs, the rest of the country witnessing his amazing instincts and flashy personality. “I’m relaxed when I play defense.”

The thing is, Rizzo and Baez could be playing next to each other for the next five years, the same way Kris Bryant and Addison Russell will be anchoring the left side of the infield.

This is how Rizzo introduced Russell to The Show when a natural shortstop tried to learn second base on the fly last year and track pop-ups in front of 40,000 people: “Hey, watch out for that skateboard behind you! Don’t trip!”

“Oh yeah, we yell at each other all the time,” Rizzo said. “It’s just one of those things where you got to stay loose.”

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